For a long time in my life and ministry I was very aware of the Biblical/theological benefits of the reformed doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith in Christ alone. However, I was woefully ignorant about the therapeutic and relational benefits of the blood and righteousness of Christ. Francis Schaeffer often asked people, “What is the present value of the blood of Christ in your life right now?” This is a worthy and excellent question that serves to diagnose at least to a degree, a person’s understanding of the Gospel.
A question I often ask when talking about spiritual experience is, “What is the present value of the imputed righteousness of Christ to your life?” How much do you talk about it, relish it, rely upon it and experience gratitude for it? Is this something you apply to yourself in relation to God, others and self, and your place in the world? Is this the foundation of your identity or are you striving to build an identity apart from it? So what is it (imputed righteousness) and why should I care?
The Gospel provides not only forgiveness for our bad record but also a place to stand through Christ’s perfect record. Christ not only died in our place but also lived a perfect life in our place. Therefore, we do not simply receive forgiveness of sins from Christ but also complete acceptance. His perfect past and record now (in God’s sight) becomes ours as much as if we had lived it ourselves. When God looks at us it is as if He sees us as righteous and beloved as Christ is. He is well pleased with us.
Most of us have seen the bumper sticker, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven!” This bumper sticker theology is a mixed bag – both good in that we are forgiven and bad in that it is woefully incomplete. Christians are not just forgiven. We are also perfect. Lest that become confusing, we are perfect in Christ. Legally, forensically, objectively and really we are the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). If we really believed this from the crown of our head to the bottom of our feet, how would we be different?
For about the first half of my Christian life I was about “half-saved”. My understanding of the Gospel was inhibited because I did not understand this double imputation. I knew that Christ died for my sins on the cross, that He absorbed the wrath of God and the fury of His judgment on my behalf. I knew that Christ satisfied the justice of God on my behalf and that I was no longer liable for punishment and that my guilt had been removed. I had never heard that Christ fulfilled the covenant of works for me and lived a life I could never live. Because I did not know about imputed righteousness and how to apply it, my life suffered relationally with God, myself, others and the world.
First, in my relationship with God, I knew I was forgiven but felt guilty all of the time. I found myself failing to live up to the standards I imposed on myself and standards my Christian environment imposed upon me. I had a floating sense of condemnation. I figured that God was disgusted with me and looked at me with contempt. I preached grace and the love of God and believed it for everyone but myself. Every bad thing that happened to me I perceived as God’s punishing and chastising me. My relationship with God was not one of freedom. Facing Him made my prayer life a joke. I could not be the real me in His presence. I tried to be the me I thought He wanted me to be. How bogus and inauthentic I was. I was bound up.
Second, in relation to myself, I struggled with self worth or esteem. I was filled with self loathing and self hatred. I was driven to excel and was extremely competitive. I had to win to prove to myself that I was a somebody and not a nobody. I feared being perceived as a loser. I hid the real me under a mask of success because I feared if anyone knew the real me, they would reject me. This gnawing sense of insecurity and inferiority made me a very driven person. I was fed up with myself.
Third, in relation to others, I saw others as competitors. I wanted and longed for their acceptance and approval, to be cool, well thought of, admired and respected. Yet I tried too hard and drove people away. I became vicious, cynical and jaded. My favorite sport was cutting people down at the knees so that I could stand taller. Put downs, one ups, superiority and inferiority characterized my relationships. If I thought you were better than me I hated and envied you, and if I thought I was better than you I despised you and treated you with contempt. I had to appear to be funnier, wiser, smarter, cooler and certainly holier than you. Conflict inevitably followed (James 4:1-2). I was screwed up.
Fourth, my relation to the world could be summed up by saying that it was a stage for the display of my fat, relentless ego. I was driven to be successful, to have status, glory, worship and adoration. I wanted a standing ovation for my accomplishments. Underneath this drivenness was a radical insecurity that showed itself in defensiveness, anxiety, depression, conceit, bigotry, hatefulness, etc., etc. I was eaten up! Not understanding the imputed righteousness of Christ left me bound up, fed up, screwed up and eaten up. So how does the Gospel transform us?
Once I understood that God sees me in Christ, a beloved son in whom He is well pleased, and that He delights in me I was freed up! The acceptance and approval of God loosened the chains of guilt and condemnation and God became someone I enjoyed and who enjoyed my company. This is rarified air!
As I applied the righteousness of Christ to myself I became more secure. I no longer had anything to prove. I could relax and accept myself, flaws and all. I knew that my worth did not depend upon my present level of sanctification but upon the perfect record of Christ. Instead of being fed up I could rest.
In relation to others, I discovered that people are not equipment or tools to use but people to love and serve. In Galatians 5:6 Paul said that “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.” The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love. As I put my faith in Christ’s righteousness, that faith expressed itself in love toward others. Instead of being screwed up as a relational disaster, I began to experience community.
In relation to the world, it is no longer a stage for my ego, but a theater for His glory. Instead of being eaten up with myself, I have been freed to contribute to and make a difference in the world. And this is all because of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Why is it so hard to accept it and apply it? I have to let go of my own righteousness to receive His. I can’t wear His if I insist upon wearing my own. So, what is the present value of the righteousness of Christ to you at this moment? I hope it is ultimate and paramount.